The maestro leading one of Australian opera’s largest and most expensive undertakings calls it quits, citing issues of “personal chemistry”.

Opera Australia has today confirmed that Richard Mills AM, the conductor to whom the company entrusted its monumental Ring Cycle, has stepped down from the podium.

He has withdrawn just months before the November launch of the $15 million Neil Armfield production of Wagner’s tetralogy, due to a lack of both “chemistry between cast and conductor” and “unity of vision”, Mills commented in a statement issued today.

The sudden resignation comes as a shock following weeks of rehearsals and almost two years of dedicated preparations. In May 2011, the Australian composer-conductor told Limelight he was about to put his own music on hold for an extended period of concentration on the scores of Wagner. “Conducting and composing are two completely different habits of mind, and I find it very hard to work on both intensely at once – that’s why after I’ve finished my organ concerto I’m not writing any more music until after the Ring Cycle in 2013,” he said.

Two weeks ago, when Limelight again caught up with Mills, he was positive about his progress, having been in close collaboration with Opera Australia head of music Tony Legge. “Only a fool would approach the Ring with a feeling of brash confidence, but the view is that I know it very well,” he said.

Today he announced his departure from the high-profile Wagner bicentenary behemoth that has consumed so much of his time and creative energy. “To achieve artistic success the chemistry between cast and conductor needs to be of a certain vibrancy and character. Unfortunately the necessary unity of vision for this piece on this occasion was not achieved. It is a matter of personal chemistry which cannot be planned for and which sometimes doesn’t happen despite the best intentions of all concerned.

“Therefore in the interests of an outstanding cast and production, and after a great deal of thought, I have decided to withdraw. I have been completely supported by the team at Opera Australia at all times and this decision is mine alone. I wish the project the great success I am sure it will achieve as a landmark event in the history of opera in Australia.” 

The company’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini added: “Richard has a long and distinguished career with Opera Australia and we look forward to working with him again in the future and wish him continued success. I would also like to thank Richard for the outstanding work he has done on this project to this point.” No replacement has been announced.